Those of us who, like most writers and readers of Catholic Exchange, try to live something of an intellectual life, tend to believe that “issues” are very important in presidential elections. We think that in the last analysis elections should be decided, and are decided, on the basis of issues. But we are mistaken in this. To be sure, issues are of some importance, and in some presidential elections they are of very great importance. But for the average voter in a presidential election (not to mention elections at many other levels of government), there is another factor that is usually more important. Consciously or unconsciously, the average voter asks himself/herself the question: “How will my kind of people vote?” And “my kind of people” can be based on any number of factors – ethnicity, race, religion, profession, income level, education level, region of the country, sexual orientation, etc.
Non-Hispanic white voters who think of themselves as traditional Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, have been drifting away from the Democratic Party for a number of decades now; and this drift is largely explained by the answer such voters have been giving to the demographic question, “How will my kind of people vote?”
The four demographic pillars of today’s Democratic Party are these:
(1) Blacks, 95 percent of whom voted for Obama in 2008. This is a big group: blacks make up about 13 percent of the US population.
(2) Hispanics, 2/3 of whom voted for Obama. Hispanics are an even bigger group than blacks.
(3) Jews are a small group, only about 2 percent of the population; but the overwhelming majority of whom continue the old Jewish pattern of voting for Democrats and supporting them in other ways, e.g., with money, propaganda, and hard work.
(4) Out-of-the-closet gays, an even smaller group, but nearly all of them (pace the Log Cabin Republicans) voted for Obama, who repaid them by repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” These gays are also good at giving money, making propaganda, and working hard.
So let’s say you’re a non-Hispanic white Evangelical or Catholic. You look at the Democrats, and you say to yourself: “I’m not black. I’m not Hispanic. I’m not Jewish. And I’m not gay. So why should I vote for the Democratic candidate for president? Why should I vote for Obama when most people in my group will not be doing so – when my group is no longer, as it once was, one of the pillars of the Democratic Party?”
This alienation from the Democratic Party grows as an awareness of its demographic makeup grows. Many Catholic voters – older persons especially – think that today’s Democratic Party is still essentially the same party it was in their father’s or grandfather’s day. But these older people gradually die off, and younger people gradually catch on to what’s happening. And this catching-on process is facilitated when the conspicuous spokespersons and defenders of the Democratic Party are more and more likely to be either black or Hispanic or Jewish or gay.
Let me stress that you don’t have to be racist or xenophobic or anti-Semitic or homophobic to react in the way I’m describing. Of course if you are prejudiced in any of these ways, you’ll be very quick to eschew the Democratic Party; but most white Catholics and Protestants who are leaving the party are not, I believe, motivated by prejudice. Think of how, if you’d like a drink, you never go to a gay bar. Why not? Is it because you are homophobic? No, more likely it is simply because that kind of bar is their bar, not yours; you’re not really welcome. Similarly, you make no effort to join a black social club. This isn’t because you’re anti-black; it’s because it’s theirsocial club; you’re not really welcome. And you don’t try to attend Sabbath services at a local synagogue. This doesn’t mean you are anti-Semitic; it just means you don’t belong there.
Likewise with the Democratic Party. White Christians more and more come to feel: “It’s no longer my party; it’s their party; people like me are no longer welcome. I guess I’ll have to go over to the Republicans, where I’ll feel more at home.”
It should be added that this process of leaving the Democratic Party accelerates once a critical mass is reached. Among white Evangelicals, this critical mass was reached a long time ago. Among non-Hispanic white Catholics, the moment of critical mass seems to be rapidly approaching. Not too far down the road it may be as normal for such Catholics to be Republicans as it was once normal for them to be Democrats.